We have reached the end of Creative Play Date Week. I’ve probably rambled on about it before, but you may wonder why I think play is so important. I think that as we get older (particularly appropriate that I am typing this on my birthday), the process of “growing up” causes us to take on a lot of baggage from society, parents, teachers, etc. and we get too far away from our innate state of curiosity, of questioning, of experimentation. To create art that really comes from our souls, from the core of who we are, we have to get back to curious, questioning, experimenting beings we were as kids and the way to do that is to play again like kids.
For me, I have to go pretty far back because I stopped playing before I was anywhere near the end of childhood. To make it happen, I have to schedule it and set aside the time, but once I am playing, I can rekindle that spirit of childhood and reconnect with my authentic self. It is when I am playing that ideas for work flow out of me and I get excited about creating. It is when I am playing that I begin to create art that I know comes from deep within my soul, work that is truly and uniquely my own. It is through play that the serious work of being an artist begins.
Today, I made dots. A friend and I have experimented with Creative Play exercises of painted dots. She made some great ones on fabric and turned them into journal covers. I loved what she did so I made some dots of my own on fabric today:
I think that the Universe is contriving to make my Creative Play Date Week both as challenging as possible and as rewarding as possible. It’s challenging because my life this week has been busy. By early afternoon Wednesday, I’d already worked as many consulting hours as I normally do in a week. Plus, I had more family obligations than normal, including an overnight trip to the other end of the state and back. Finding the time for Creative Play this week has been a real challenge and I think that I am supposed to have the experience of having to make the time when life is as busy as it gets.
Maybe because the rest of my life is so busy, I am finding the Creative Play time to be so rewarding. Today, I completely lost myself in painting. I wasn’t using any special materials, just my daughter’s nearly-dried poster paints and cheap brush, but I was getting such pleasure from the process of painting that I lost all track of time. And that does more for my blood pressure than 20 minutes of meditation.
Here’s today’s project. I took the page layout from the June 15, 2017 front page of The New York Times and painted blocks of color. Could be a quilt, don’t you think?
Today’s Creative Play was quick, so quick that I decided to do some doodling after I finished my project for the day and doodled a design that would look nice on a quilt.
For my project today, I pulled out the deck of Creative Strength Training Prompt Cards I just bought from Jane Dunnewold and pulled a card. The action was to use an emotion as inspiration. I have paintings hanging on my studio wall for “love” and “grief” so I chose “anger,” which was why the painting came so fast. Anger was easy for me to tap into this week and the image I wanted to paint came pretty quickly to mind. As you can see, slashing paint onto paper didn’t take that long either. I am happy to report that it was therapeutic.
Day 1 of Creative Play Date Week was an exercise in finding the time and a good reminder of the benefits of just 15 minutes of play.
Monday was busy, really busy. We got our kid off to her first day of camp and then I commuted into Boston for a full day in the office. I raced home, picked my daughter up, did more work while boiling pasta for dinner, got my kid in the tub and ready for bed, then did two more hours of work before I finally crawled in bed myself. Reading that, you may wonder when I did my Creative Play or if I decided that I was just too busy and bailed on it. I seriously considered it. It’s always really easy for me to justify not allowing time for my creativity because I have work to do and the dangerous thing about that is that there is ALWAYS work to do.
But, you may remember me saying that if you have a kid like mine who takes a while to get ready for bed, you can squeeze in 15 minutes there. That’s exactly what I did. I got her in the tub (She is old enough to not drown so I can leave her alone in the bathroom, though I did come back to shut off the water before she started a flood.), then I went into my studio to find something to play with for 15 minutes. I didn’t create amazing art, but I did sit down for 20 minutes of coloring in a coloring book. I know, hardly stretching my creativity, but it calmed my mind for a few minutes, revived me a bit because I was making myself a priority and even 20 minutes of that was invaluable on a frustrating day of doing things for other people. I know that I will have many more days like that so I think that I will leave the coloring book out and keep the markers handy.
Here’s what I did in 20 minutes. It’s from “Big Blossoms Coloring Collection” by Angela Van Dam.
I’ve talked a lot about 15 minutes of play time each day. I even wrote about it in my last newsletter, which was when I realized that I am not practicing what I preach. I’ve been spending a few hours working in my studio each day, but playing? Nope, I’ve just been hard at work on my projects. I’ve decided that I need to do something about that so I am designating the week of June 19th, Creative Play Date WEEK. I’m going to do my 15 minutes of play every day. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you join me, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!
I’ve seen the recommendation in a couple of sources to spend at least 15 minutes a day in your creative work. It’s a great idea. Fifteen minutes a day is enough to keep your creative pump primed and enough to feed your soul on a daily basis. But, even 15 minutes a day can seem really daunting if it first requires clearing off the dining room table and pulling out all of your supplies in order to get to work. We may not all be able to have a room of our own for our creative work, but having a least a corner or a small surface is absolutely necessary.
We all need a spot where we can sit down and do our creative work and on days when 15 minutes is all we really have, it’s important to be able to sit down and get right to work. If even that time seems like a struggle at the moment, think about where you might find 15 minutes a day. Would you have 15 minutes while something simmers on the stove as you cook dinner? Look around for a spot near the kitchen that could become your space. Do you have one of those bill paying desks in the kitchen? Ever paid bills there? No one else has either; make it your creative space.
Does it take your child 15 minutes to get her pajamas on and teeth brushed before bed? (Mine takes at least that long!) Is there a closet near the bedrooms that could be emptied and turned into a creativity closet? I am lucky enough to have a room of my own (having decided not to have a guest room in my house in order to have a studio – sorry, Mom!), but I still turned my closet into a work space. I hung closet organizers and a standing height desk and I use the space for all non-quilting related art, painting, paper crafts, etc. (and some junk too as you can see below).
I rescheduled my Creative Play Date to last Friday and had a wonderful day. I met a friend at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to tour the Matisse in the Studio exhibit. We also stumbled upon an exhibit of politically-motivated art, which was particularly appropriate since she is one of the curators of the Threads of Resistance exhibit being developed by SAQA. We toured the bookstores, where I had a heavy shopping day and then had to lug home three beefy books, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the cafe. I should do that more often.
The Matisse in the Studio show was wonderful. It was such a treat to see objects from his studio next to the works he created from them. I, of course, loved seeing the Islamic textiles from his collection.
North African window screen, 19th – early 20th centuries; Matisse in the Studio Exhibit, Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Here are my key takeaways from the exhibit and from Matisse’s work in general:
- Matisse used the same objects as subjects repeatedly. This is a strength of the exhibit, being able to see the chocolate pot or vase itself next to several paintings that include the same pot. Such positioning makes clear just how often Matisse went back to the same objects for inspiration, but with very different results.
- Matisse experimented with different styles. The work that I consider to be his signature style only made up a small portion of the works exhibited. I was particularly struck by two roughly-contemporaneous paintings. One was dark and more realistic and the other colorful and more abstract. And in fact, the more colorful, more abstract one that is in more of what I recognize as Matisse’s style was made four years earlier than the other. The pursuit of one’s voice as an artist can still include experimenting with different styles.
- Matisse continued to experiment and evolve as an artist until the very end of his life. One of the things that I find so inspirational about Matisse is how he continued to create art in old age when he was no longer able to paint like he used to. The paper cutouts of Matisse’s later years are some of my favorite works of his and they only came about because painting was no longer an option for him. Rather than retiring, he found a new medium and continued to create incredible art; I hope to be able to do the same.
The Creative Play Date last week didn’t happen for me for a variety of reasons, but I rescheduled and am off to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today for the Matisse in the Studio exhibit.
In March’s newsletter, I wrote about the importance of play time to stimulate your creative juices and how I have found the times when I have allowed time for play to be some of my most creative. But what if that still doesn’t work? There certainly are days when even the idea of playing in the studio without any plan in mind feels too hard. When that’s the case, get out of the studio and do something different.
I’ve talked before about those periods of frustration when nothing seems to be going right and I’ve prescribed leaving the studio then to take a walk or go on an Artist’s Date. Both of those are good things but, believe me, sometimes that isn’t enough. I’m talking now about those days when you walk into the studio and just want to turn right around again. Even housecleaning is looking more appealing than creating. Those are desperate times! Before you pick up a scrub brush, try one more thing – explore other media. Haven’t picked up a paintbrush since grade school? Try it now. Mash your frustrations out on some clay. String some beads. Take a class in something that’s really new to you or experiment in media you haven’t tried before. Even when you’re playing in your preferred medium, it can be hard to truly let go. That’s the point of trying a new one. It’s totally new to you so there are no expectations. (Actually, you probably expect that what you create will be total crap and you’ll just be pleasantly surprised when it’s not.) You can create just for the sake of creating. If you can recapture a few moments of that sheer joy of creating that you had as a kid, you might just find that spark that will bring you back to your work.
I recently took a watercolor journaling class with Jane LaFazio. I may never be a watercolor painter, but I tried something new, opened up some new creative channels and managed to paint a pretty decent shoe:
I had an essay already written and all typed up for this month’s newsletter when I began reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. (Thank you, Carol, for the introduction to this book.) Reading it has been so transformative that I felt like I needed to shelve my plans for this month and write about it. I have been really struggling lately with my plans of making a living as an artist and the reality of doing so. This book has helped me to understand why this has been such a struggle.
Hyde describes two different economies: the commodity economy and the gift economy. In the first part of the book, he delves into anthropology and history to describe the development of both. But, my basic take-away from the first part was this: I have participated in a commodity economy for more than 25 years. From my first minimum wage job at 14, through salaried work and now highly-paid but still hourly consulting work, I have been able to directly equate one hour of work with a certain amount of pay. Art doesn’t work this way. An artist participates in a gift economy in which she or he receives a gift of artistic talent or inspiration and then creates a gift by making the art. The artist gives the gift to the world and is compensated indirectly through another gift. It’s a circle that continues but one in which there is no way to directly correlate hours worked with a ROI. To say that this is a foreign concept to me is a complete understatement and I’ve realized I have to completely shift my thinking about what it means to work and about compensation. I have no idea yet how to do that, but it does help explain why this hasn’t been working.